Basics about FASDs


  • Identification of possible FAS in the toddler or preschool child
  • Medical Professionals

The full picture of FAS usually occurs in babies born to alcoholic mothers, or those who drink more than four to five drinks each day. Even light or moderate drinking can affect the developing fetus. The Outpatient Psychiatry Service at Boston Children’s Hospital works with children and adolescents to determine if psychoactive medication would be an effective tool in their psychiatric treatment. Our team sees children with a wide range of psychiatric conditions, including mood and anxiety disorders, problems with impulse control and developmental disorders and psychosis, which are sometimes brought on by FAS. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a group of abnormalities that occur in babies born to mothers who consume alcohol during pregnancy. It is the most common known non-genetic (in other words, non-inherited) cause of mental retardation in the United States.

fetal alcohol syndrome

However, even in known alcohol-abusing mothers, FAS in newborns continues to be under-recognized (15). In general, the diagnostic team includes a pediatrician and/or physician who may have expertise in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, an occupational therapist, a speech-language pathologist, and a psychologist. One person might have only a few, while another person could experience all of them. An individual with FAS may have noticeable changes to their face and limbs, as well as delays in the way their body develops over time. There can also be mental and emotional challenges throughout the person’s life that can impact their social life, education and work.

Identification of possible FAS in the toddler or preschool child

Children do best if they are diagnosed early and referred to a team of providers who can work on educational and behavioral strategies that fit the child’s needs. Binge drinking is more harmful than drinking small amounts of alcohol. Access definitions for the range of conditions that can occur under the non-diagnostic term of FASD.

What is the difference between FAS and Fae?

Prenatal exposure to alcohol can cause a range of disorders known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). The most severe effects of this disorder are called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). If only some of the clinical signs of prenatal exposure to alcohol are present, the term Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) is used.

Choose a symptom and answer simple questions using our physician-reviewed Symptom Checker to find a possible diagnosis for your health issue. The most serious problem FAS can cause is developmental delay. FAS is the leading cause of preventable developmental delays in the United States. Most often, FAS is diagnosed based on the mother’s history and the appearance of your baby, based on a physician examination by a physician. Building on a successful 85-year legacy, we support every pregnant person and every family.

Medical Professionals

In some cities, there are clinics whose staffs have special training in diagnosing and treating children with FASDs. To find doctors and clinics in your area visit the National and State Resource Directory from FASD United (formerly NOFAS). In this episode Alex R. Kemper, MD, MPH, MS, FAAP, deputy editor of Pediatrics, shares a research roundup from the July issue of the journal. Hosts David Hill, MD, FAAP, and Joanna Parga-Belinkie, MD, FAAP, also talk with Rachel Alinsky, MD, MPH, FAAP, about a new policy statement on recommended terminology for substance use disorders. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a 30-bed referral center for critically ill infants requiring complex medical and surgical care.

Can an alcoholic male have a healthy baby?

"Binge drinking by would-be parents is a high-risk and dangerous behavior that not only may increase the chance of their baby being born with a heart defect, but also greatly damages their own health," Dr. Qin said in a statement. The research "does indicate that men and women planning a family should give up alcohol."

Adverse effects on the outcome of pregnancy, in addition to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, have been noted with chronic or heavy alcohol use. These effects include an increased risk for spontaneous abortion, placental abruption, preterm delivery, amnionitis, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome. Drinking alcohol in the first 3 months of pregnancy is the most dangerous. Alcohol can interfere with the development and cause birth defects. But drinking at any time during pregnancy is not safe and can harm your baby.


There is no cure for FASDs, but identifying children with FASDs as early as possible can help them reach their potential. Research has shown that early identification and enrollment in treatment can significantly improve an affected child’s development and life. All children with involvement in foster care or adoption processes―especially international adoptions―should always be evaluated for a possible FASD.

  • A rating of 2 (possible brain dysfunction), referred to as ‘neurobehavioural disorder’, is based on personal observations and historical information about behaviour, suggesting the possibility of brain damage.
  • The best thing you can do is stop drinking when you are thinking about getting pregnant.
  • A child with fetal alcohol syndrome may have specific abnormal facial features, small head size, and problems with development including delayed language, learning, and poor impulse control.
  • The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a 30-bed referral center for critically ill infants requiring complex medical and surgical care.
  • This statement describes a variety of screening strategies including Tolerance-Annoyance, Cut Down, Eye Opener (T-ACE).
  • Abnormalities of hearing and speech (25,36), and olfactory difficulties may also be noted.

Speech delay and language deficits such as difficulties in word comprehension, naming ability, articulation, expressive and receptive language skills, and articulation disorders are also typical. As mentioned previously, complications range in quality and severity. Sequelae include perturbations to affect regulation and cognition, as well as to physical appearance manifested via pathognomonic anomalies.

What can be expected after treatment for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)?

A definitive diagnosis of FAS is difficult to make because there are no biochemical markers and the manifestations of this condition are so variable. Making the diagnosis depends on identifying a spectrum of clinical characteristics that are static and not due to postnatal factors. Identified at-risk infants should be referred to early childhood intervention programs without delay to prevent damaging behaviours that may develop, and to deal with developmental problems. The mother should be given support and help in dealing with a difficult infant. Often, the mother has FAS and may have problems coping with a difficult child.

  • Alcohol use during this time could negatively impact the baby.
  • Based on studies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others, it is estimated that in the United States, somewhere between 800 and 8,000 babies could be born each year with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
  • She tells us more about decreasing stigma and how to provide appropriate information to children and families.
  • When evaluating a patient for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, each of the five conditions that comprise fetal alcohol spectrum disorders has specific diagnostic criteria.
  • Drinking alcohol at any time during pregnancy can harm your baby.

Such educational intervention often means scaling down academic expectations and emphasizing training for future self-sufficiency. Programming for success can result in improved learning and enhanced self-image, which in turn can decrease ‘acting out’ behaviours. The school-aged child, if not previously identified, will usually be referred for diagnostic work-up because of learning problems — especially with reading and mathematics — or with behavioural abnormalities.


Poor maternal nutritional status may also increase the likelihood of having an alcohol-affected child. Ongoing research is desirable to see whether measures taken are effective and should be criteria-based. Using the 4-digit Diagnostic Code assures that criteria for diagnosis are consistent. It also allows comparisons of prevalence, outcomes and the effectiveness of preventive and intervention measures. Infants with FAS and/or atypical FAS are very difficult to manage, and because of this problem, they are at risk for abuse from caregivers.

  • Some symptoms can be managed with treatment by a healthcare provider, but they won’t go away.
  • State and local social services can help families with special education and social services.
  • Your baby’s brain, heart and blood vessels begin to develop in the early weeks of pregnancy, before you may know you’re pregnant.
  • Other factors such as maternal nutrition also contribute to the variation in the effects on the baby.

If you cannot stop drinking, talk with your doctor or contact local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups, particularly a women’s group, or a local alcohol counselor or treatment center. AA is a cost-free fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. Discuss all your questions and concerns with your child’s medical home provider and other specialists caring for your child. You may need reassurance as a parent and may benefit from greater personal and emotional support. There may be a support group to which your child’s doctor can refer you, or you can find one through your community, church, or school system.

Immunofluorescent staining revealed that ethanol treatment downregulated Ap-2, Pax7, and HNK-1 expressions by cranial NCCs. The use of double-immunofluorescent stainings for Ap-2/pHIS3 and Ap-2/c-caspase 3 showed that alcohol treatment inhibited cranial NCC proliferation and increased NCC apoptosis. Alcohol exposure of the dorsal neuroepithelium increased laminin, N-cadherin, and cadherin 6B expressions while Cadherin 7 expression was repressed.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) is an umbrella term used to describe the range of effects that can occur in an individual with prenatal alcohol exposure. These effects can have lifelong implications including physical, mental, behavior, and/or learning issues. Alcohol use during pregnancy causes life-long issues that can be very serious. If you’ve consumed alcohol during pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider. It’s important to make an early diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome.